St Andrews: Living the Dream
Farkhodjon Israilov (MSc 2010) describes how studying at St Andrews was one of the best life choices he has ever made, and how it ultimately led to a successful career in banking and reaching the finals of the British Council Study UK Alumni Awards 2021-22.
My journey to the University of St Andrews began in Tashkent, Uzbekistan with my family.
My parents were engineers in the oil and gas industry. The collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, however, was a difficult time for educated people. After that, everything changed for my parents: their degrees were no longer valued, and their salaries were reduced to the extent that they could only afford to feed and dress us. But they never complained and continued to support me and my siblings in our studies because they understood the importance of education and the opportunities it could give us.
The new independent Uzbekistan came into existence in 1991. During the first few years this resulted in an initial drop in the standard of education in schools, and my parents had to work hard to pay for private classes to compensate for this. All the time I was at school my dream was to study in the UK, be successful in my career and make them proud of me.
In 2000 I began to apply to universities in the UK, but my family could not afford to pay the fees and I needed a scholarship to cover all my expenses. For eight years I pursued my dream and my family kept believing in and supporting me.
Then in 2008 I discovered the University of St Andrews. There were three things about it that interested me: it was the third oldest university in the English-speaking world, its School of Economics was ranked number five and it was in Scotland. I have always been fascinated by Scotland and its history (and in particular by William Wallace and Robert Bruce) because – like Uzbekistan – it had to fight for and win its independence.
Everything finally fell into place in 2009 when I was awarded the Chevening scholarship from the British Government and I was able to start my studies at the University in September 2009.
I fell in love with St Andrews. The Schools of Finance and Economics looked like castles from a Harry Potter movie, the libraries and computer labs were excellent, the students in my class came from all over the world and my teachers and professors were unfailingly helpful and supportive. The subjects I studied – game theory, the international economy, European integration and methods and models in international strategy – were hugely helpful to my career in the banking industry. The course was challenging but I loved it, and with support from my supervisor Dr Laurence Lasselle, I achieved a distinction in my dissertation work. I will always be grateful to her for this.
After my graduation I had to choose whether to stay in the UK or return to Uzbekistan. I decided to return home to continue my career at the Uzbekistan Branch of the Korea Development Bank. My promotion in 2017 to Head of the Strategic Planning Department coincided with the election of the new Uzbekistan President, who began to transform the whole economy and the banking sector. As the Head of the Strategic Planning Department, my team and I were at the centre of these changes during the start of the economic liberalisation processes in Uzbekistan. Moreover, we had successfully started transformation processes at our bank.
In 2018, I applied for and was awarded the UK’s John Smith Trust Fellowship for emerging leaders from the former Soviet Union. This enabled me to further develop my leadership skills through engagement with the Bank of England, the UK Parliament, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and other institutions.
I am currently leading the Center for Coordination of Investment Activities and Project Management, which aims to attract foreign investors to the Uzbekistan economy. This year I became a finalist in the British Council Study UK Alumni Awards 2021-22.
I achieved all this because I studied at the University of St Andrews. It has been one of the best life choices I’ve ever made. My advice to current students is never to give up your dream. Everything is possible – you just have to work hard to achieve your goals.
When I look back at my life since leaving St Andrews, I believe that my greatest achievement of all is my family. My parents made great sacrifices for me and gave me unfailing support when I was growing up. And now, my mother, brother, sister, my wonderful wife and my two children make my life colourful, happy and meaningful.